Monday, April 20, 2009

Jane Harman and the NSA Wiretap

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA)

CQ writer Jeff Stein has broken a story that Rep. Jane Harman (D-Ca) was picked up on a NSA wiretap talking with a suspected Israeli agent about intervening in a Justice Department prosecution of two AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee) figures for espionage. (AIPAC is considered the most-powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.) In exchange, the person talking to Harman promised to put pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to name Harman to the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee should the Democrats win the 2006 mid-term elections. The story is based on revelations by at least two ex-NSA employees with first-hand knowledge of the conversation.

In an interesting story that embarrasses both parties, a subsequent FBI investigation into Harman's activities was allegedly short-circuited by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on the grounds (allegedly) that Harman was a supporter of the administration's wiretap policy in the wake of 9-11. According to Stein, a planned FBI interview of Harman was stopped by Gonzalez.

According to Stein's report, Harman was overheard on the wiretap telling the other party that she would "waddle into" the case "if you think it'll make a difference". She then, allegedly, told the person in ending the conversation, "this conversation doesn't exist."

Harman is denying the report and any wrongdoing.

“These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” Harman said in a prepared statement. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”

The important point here is whether, subsequent to the alleged intercepted call, she actually contacted Justice and tried to influence a pending prosecution in return for political favors. That would constitute obstruction of justice and corruption.

Subsequent to the 2006 elections, House Speaker Pelosi initially tried to appoint Alcee Hastings, the disgraced former judge to the post sought by Harman. When that proved too embarrassing, she appointed Silvestre Reyes of Texas by-passing Harman, who had been the ranking member of the committee when the Republicans controlled the House.

Of course, if true, this would be a case that also embarrasses the US-Israel relationship, one I happen to support. However, it is a fact of life that even friendly nations and allies spy on each other. Yet, when it is uncovered, there are still consequences to be paid. Just ask Jonathan Pollard.

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